Dog Food Aggression with Other Animals or Humans
Displays of dog food aggression with other animals or humans should not simply be brushed under the carpet. It’s a problem that could result in serious consequences if left unchecked.
Issues around food guarding do not necessarily imply that the dog has a personality defect or has not been properly trained; they do this instinctively. Although dogs that are generally aggressive would be more likely to demonstrate food aggression, it can also sometimes be seen in otherwise-sweet-natured, well-adjusted family dogs. The problem might only make an appearance when the dog’s food or food bowl is present.
A dog with major food-guarding issues can be potentially dangerous to anyone who might approach him when he’s eating. Instinct is compelling him to behave in this unacceptable and potentially dangerous way. You need to take action to reverse the bad behavior to safeguard your relationship with your dog and before someone gets hurt.
Different Degrees of Food Guarding
In the least-aggressive case of food guarding, a dog would merely freeze or tense up when someone approaches while he’s having a meal. He may even continue eating, but his posture would remain tight and rigid. He would clearly be uncomfortable.
How to Read the Danger Signs
Here are some signs of a more severe problem:
- A noticeable increase in speed of eating;
- Hard, direct stare at you (often accompanied by a tense, still, “watching” posture);
- Raised lip;
- A snarl;
- A snap;
- Finally, an actual bite.
NOTE: When a dog displays any of the last three of these symptoms, you can be sure he has a rather serious case of food-guarding aggression. He may be prepared to inflict actual harm. If you suspect this is the case with your dog, your best bet may be to engage the services of a qualified trainer. He or she will be able to analyze your general relationship with your dog and determine whether or not there are other factors that might be contributing to the problem.
A dog that displays dog food aggression with other animals or with people is a rather confused one. He has your role mixed up in his mind. He does not recognize that you are the one who dispenses his food. This is a fact that should automatically accord you alpha-dog status, thereby ensuring your immunity from dominance or aggression. Instead, he is viewing you as a threat, a scoundrel who might be intending to take away his precious food. That would explain the possessiveness.
The Importance of Food to a Dog
It might be difficult to understand the degree of aggression that a food-guarding dog is capable of until you consider the fact that eating is one of the greatest pleasures of a dog’s life. Dogs are natural scavengers; they are set up to eat just about anything they can get their teeth into. Besides having this instinct, most dogs simply enjoy the physical sensations that come with just about any kind of meal. They just like to eat.
This staggering importance that they place on food gets some dogs confused. They lose their grasp of the situation; they begin to wonder who might come across them and deprive them of their adored food. This points to… you, or whoever comes around at meal-time.
To cure your dog of this disappointing and hostile habit, you need to remind him that you are actually the one who is responsible for supplying what he holds so dear. Make it clear to him that you are the one in charge of the kitchen and all the tasty morsels it contains.
Dogs can develop food-guarding instincts at any stage of their lives. Some will have had the problem since puppyhood, while for others the tendency could lie dormant until it’s awakened by an item that is particularly delicious.
For most dogs, the deciding factor will be meat in some shape or form. Whether it’s a leg of lamb, a marrowbone or scraps from the dinner table, meat is to dogs as money is to humans. It can transform them, causing them to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do. It, therefore, shouldn’t be surprising that the innate value of meat-related foods can give your dog an unpleasantly-distorted outlook on the inviolability of the food bowl.
Preventing Dog Food Aggression
To prevent food-guarding issues arising at any point in your dog’s life, you should make a point of approaching him during meal-time. This applies whether you acquire him from puppyhood or adopt him as an adult from a shelter.
To follow the advice, “Don’t disturb him when he’s eating”, would be a short-term solution at best. It will prevent anything troublesome from happening, on condition that all the humans toe the line and ensure that they don’t disturb the dog. However, the dog will still be the one calling the shots.
This is why a dog that is allowed to eat alone and undisturbed can actually become more food-aggressive, rather than less. With no-one to take him down a notch, he will begin to assume more authority than he is entitled to.
To keep your dog from developing an exaggerated sense of his own importance, make sure that you give him plenty of disturbance while he’s eating. Don’t undertake to tip-toe around whenever he’s eating; it’ll just make him accustomed to silence and solitude when he eats.
On the other hand, don’t let these disturbances become a negative experience for him either. You might otherwise end up creating a problem where none previously existed. Just approach him now and then while he eats.
Start on the first day he comes into your home. Put something small and tasty into his bowl while he’s having a meal. This makes a connection in his mind: a human approaches my food bowl = good news! A piece of cheese, a spoonful of scrambled egg or a small piece of chicken – anything that he’ll enjoy and consider better than the dry pellets that he’s eating – should work perfectly.
Too Late for Prevention? Here’s What to Do:
Of course, if your dog already has a problem, you’ll need to adopt a very different approach. Try this strategy:
- Put away his feeding bowl for the next 7 – 10 days. During this time you will be feeding him by hand, one bit at a time. This is going to be time-consuming, to be sure, but the alternative will be even worse: you would end up with a dangerous dog that can’t be trusted around food.
Make sure that you don’t encourage any greedy grabbing or snapping for the food; just allow him to gently take the food from your hand. Remember, no greedy grabbing – only release the food when he takes it gently. He must understand that bite suppression is necessary to get what he wants!
- Once he’s eating politely from your hand after a week or so has passed, you can re-introduce the food bowl – with one minor modification: it has to be empty. It must stay empty until you pass by and deposit a small handful of kibble into it for him to eat. When he’s polished that off, wait at least another minute before adding another small handful. Continue doing this until he’s consumed his entire meal.
This is a very effective way of teaching your dog to actively desire your presence near his food bowl!
- Once your dog has mastered this stage, you can start setting down a half-full food bowl. Don’t let him lunge for it and start gobbling. Hold or place the bowl out of his reach and make him sit and wait before you allow him to eat. Don’t set the bowl down until he complies. Crouch or sit beside the bowl, adding small handfuls of kibble, just as you did in the previous step, until his full meal is consumed.
- In the final step, allow him access to a full food bowl. Again, don’t allow him to call the shots; let him sit and wait until you give him the go-ahead with an “OK!” before you allow him to eat.
To keep the message clear in his head that you are the one controlling the food in the house, call him away from his food a few times a week and give him a super-yummy treat to reward him for his meritorious obedience, then let him continue consuming his meal.
If your dog’s behavior becomes questionable at any time during these 4 steps, just back-track until your dog reaches the stage where he becomes 100% reliable. Stay at this stage for at least 2 – 3 more days before attempting to progress once more.
As with any training, it’s essential that you build a solid foundation before moving on to the next level. Your dog must be completely comfortable with each step before proceeding to the next one.
For detailed information on preventing and dealing with dog behavioral problems, take a look at Secrets to Dog Training. It’s the ultimate handbook for responsible dog owners. You’ll find a wealth of valuable advice and step-by-step instructions on all aspects of dog training.